Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cheap Art: "Correspondances"

(Stephen Antonakos, "The Package Project," via Artyficielle)

I am a true sucker for mail. I love getting it, I love giving it, I love all its inherent proof that the world is small and traversable. I love the look of it, and the beautiful surprise of finding a note of hello in my little mailbox when I least expect it.

But there are people who take mail to the next level. People like my friend Stephanie Land, an incredible artist, photographer and printmaker who hand-makes stationery and writes the most wonderful and timely notes, and whose mail is regarded amongst its recipients as true art. I thought of her this weekend as I visited Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton's Correspondances exhibit on the Champs-Élysées.

First thing you need to know: to get up to the 7th floor, where the gallery space is, you have to ride in a tiny pitch-black elevator. The elevator operator explained to me that it is a work of art on its own... just thought I should warn you first. Secondly, the space once you get there is beautiful, an entire panorama of Paris at your fingertips. Filling this space is tons of art related to the experience of sending and receiving mail, one which forces you to think about the interactivity of art, the connectivity of the world, and communication between friends, lovers, contemporaries and complete strangers.

(Ray Johnson mail art, via Esquire España)

Take, for example, the exhibit's anchor display, by Ray Johnson. In the 1950s, Johnson pioneered the "Mail Art" movement by sending thousands and thousands of his collages to friends and colleagues, and sometimes even strangers, frequently asking the recipient to "add on" and send to another artist, or back to him. These works are collected in a fascinating display of pop culture and artist interactivity, a snapshot of the late '50s and early '60s in which the works were created.

(Alighiero Boetti, "Postal Works", via Flickr)

Then there's Alighiero Boetti, whose framed collections of stamped letters to his wife and daughter in the '70s from Afghanistan, Greece and Guatemala have never been opened. Boetti said that the medium allowed him to create anywhere, anytime, without being censored.

(Eleanor Antin, "100 Boots" via SFMoMA)

Eleanor Antin's 100 Boots display is whimsical and thought-provoking: in the '70s Antin created installations of 50 pairs of boots all over the U.S., from California to New York City, in quirky and funny situations: huddled around a campfire, surrounding a belly dancer (above), paired off in parking lot spaces, crossing the street. Antin photographed the installations, then made postcards out of the photographs, then gave the postcards out to people all around the U.S. I love that these strange "happenings" went through so many media of art, eventually dispersed amongst the country and finally displayed in a gallery in Paris. That says a lot about the freedom of art, and the potential of that freedom.

But my favorite was Vittorio Santoro's room of letters called Letters To People (Silence Destroys Consequences). Santoro mailed invitations to hundreds of acquaintances with the instruction only to send him back a letter upon which they had hand-written the sentence "Silence destroys consequences." As the gallery guide notes, "the work's existence depends solely on the participation of the artist's correspondents, while at the same time the use of the post allows Santoro to explore the concepts of chance and commitment."

(Vittorio Santoro, "Letters to People [Silence Destroys Consequences]", via l'Officiel des Spectacles)

Santoro received responses from dozens of people, including dermatologists, galleries, the MoMA, Centre Pompidou, hotels and schools. It's fascinating to see the same sentiment written over and over again, in different penmanship, on different stationery. The dark, forced assertion was questioned from some compliant parties ("Are you sure that - Silence destroys consequences?" one sender asks) and juxtaposed with merry hellos from others ("Greetings to you from the Big Apple! Silence destroys consequences. See you in Paris!"). One respondent merely sent a blank page, either challenging or proving Santoro's statement.

(Vittorio Santoro, "Letters to People [Silence Destroys Consequences]", via Vittorio Santo)

At the beginning of the collection is a long letter which includes the stark statement, after which the author writes, "Never feel obliged to say what's on your mind... but always feel obliged to do what's in your heart."

If you want to be intrigued and entertained, with a beautiful view of Paris as you browse a gallery, the Correspondances exhibit is the place to go.

* Cheapskate Bonus - though photos are forbidden in the gallery, your visit is accompanied by a free exhibition book (and I mean book, not brochure), which includes photos and scans of almost everything at the gallery, and there's also a little puzzle for the kids. Souvenir de Paris!

Now through 5 May
Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton
60, rue de Bassano 75008 Paris
Métro: M1 to George V


  1. Ray was something else. In 2009 I launched an exhibition entitled A BOOK ABOUT DEATH, after Ray's work of 8 photocopied (or as he would say "xeroxed" pages. About 500 artists mailed 500 works in the form of post cards to the gallery which were then given away – you could actually walk out with the entire show, a limited edition unbound book. Since then there have been 27 exhibitions (or chapters) of A BOOK ABOUT DEATH around the world, with the next show to take place in Australia in October of this year. Yes, Ray started a school that simply never lets out. We love him... see the ABAD site here:



  2. Note Bene: I have been told by John Held Jr., a friend and friend of Ray Johnson (and an expert on all things Mail Art), that the NYACK Correspondence School was NOT A RAY JOHNSON creation... Maybe there's another photo you have to illustrate Ray's work?





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